By Robert Sparks
For decades, the slogan on the street when it comes to University of California Berkeley (UC) proposals to develop People’s Park has been “they try it, we riot.” Nevertheless, UC is testing the waters by including People’s Park as a potential site for a student dorm on a Housing Master Plan Task Force draft released this winter. The draft included 9 sites and indicates that a dorm on People’s Park would have 200-350 beds. UC calculates that it needs 7,000 new housing units for the growing number of students. While the plan is preliminary and no construction is imminent, now is the time to signal to UC: keep your bloody hands off People’s Park.
People’s Park is an occupation that’s been running for 48 years — constructed without permission in 1969 to create a beautiful community on vacant UC land. UC’s first attempt to seize back and destroy the park lead to rioting, police shootings that left bystander James Rector dead and dozens wounded, and a week-long National Guard occupation of Berkeley. The UC has always claimed to legally own the land on which the park sits on Dwight Way east of Telegraph, but since 1969 they have never been able to control it. Over the years, park users have practiced “user development” by building and tending gardens, trees and landscaping as determined by users, not government managers. It is a rare place in the city open to everyone, hosting a free speech stage and daily free food servings.
Each time UC has tried to mess with the park, its been like stepping into a hornets nest. Unable to take back the park outright, the University has periodically tested the waters to gauge continuing support — tearing up gardens, destroying freeboxes and bathrooms constructed by park users and attempting to build volleyball courts on the park against the will of park users in 1991, which UC eventually had to remove after years of unrest. The park is a symbol of past victories and is liberated land that still, amazingly, is mostly outside of the control of corporations and government. People’s Park exists for use by people, not for sale or profit.
The best way to protect the park and scare UC off from further discussion of development is to use the park as a thriving venue for radical action, alternative culture, art, music and life outside of consumerism. East Bay Food Not Bombs has served lunch at 3 pm Monday-Friday at the Park for the last 25 years. Defending the park will take increased outreach about what the park means and what it has to offer. More info at peoplespark.org. Meetings are Sundays at 1 pm.